“I don’t think we need to rush out right now with our hair on fire,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Our best course of action is to pause.”
Obama’s address came after his administration has struggled to sell his case to the public and Congress, offering muddled messages about the reasons for intervention and the nature of a potential attack.
The president and aides have alternatively argued that a strike would constitute a significant intervention that could help undermine Assad’s stance in the Syrian civil war, and that it would be an extremely limited intervention that would leave Assad in power. Obama has made clear that he will not put U.S. troops on the ground.
About a year ago, he set a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons. When he concluded that the Syrian regime had launched a sarin attack, he prepared to unilaterally order strikes — only to change his mind and seek congressional support.
National security experts said it made sense for Obama to delay action given that his hand may be strengthened even if the diplomatic solution fails.
“It gets him out of his disastrous political mess,” said Rosa Brooks, a former defense official in the Obama administration and Georgetown professor. Obama will be able to say he made every effort to avoid a military conflict, making it “a lot easier for him to make the case for force.”
But others said that even a deal would have downsides.
“You can be seduced into thinking you’re working the problem,” said Jon Alterman, a former State Department official now at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.” The problem is the broader consequences of a longer-term insurgency in Syria which attracts jihadis, brings in neighboring countries and destabilizes the region.”
Ed O’Keefe and Paul Kane in Washington, Will Englund in Russia, Michael Birnbaum in Paris, and Loveday Morris in Beirut contributed to this report.